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The Coronavirus Pandemic has hurt small businesses the world over, including fishing lodges and outfitters, as well as the small army of booking agents that keep those service providers afloat. Not surprisingly in a situation as dire at the one we are all caught up in, fishing travel clients are being asked to share at least some of the pain. The amount of pain clients are being asked to endure varies widely with the companies involved and with the situations those companies find themselves in. To help you figure out if the treatment you are receiving is fair, here at The Angling Report, we have asked a wide variety of fishing professionals to share with us how they are handling coronavirus-related trip cancellations given the unique circumstances they find themselves in. We hope this report and others that follow will help reduce conflict and increase understanding of the other guy’s point of view. If you are a fishing professional and you want your situation explained, get in touch with me, Don Causey, Editor Emeritus of The Angling Report. The same goes for fishing clients whether you are aggrieved, pleased or just humbled by what we are going through together as people. Write: [email protected].
Keith Rose-Innes, Managing Partner of Alphonse Fishing Company in the Seychelles Islands (www.alphonsefishingco.com) , checked in with this report:
Like many other Lodge companies worldwide, COVID-19 caught Alphonse fishing Company by surprise, giving us no time to fully contemplate a way through this pandemic that is fair and reasonable to our valued agents and guests. Making decisions of this magnitude is hard because it means finding a balance between a fair outcome for our agents and guests and having a bearable impact on our staff. The most important fact here is this: no one could foresee something of this magnitude happening. This entire situation is no one’s fault. Everyone has an equal right to any claims stemming from the disaster.
We were forced to close all six of our operations on various islands in Seychelles at a stage when we were at our busiest – that is, we were in the pivotal period when we earn the money needed to carry our company through the lengthy off-season. I’m sure most remote lodges would be in the same situation we are. The argument that it costs less to operate without guests on location is valid in some instances. Sadly, that not true for us in a short-notice situation, as any funds received have already been spent on provisions for cancelled guests. Remote islands like ours rely on soliciting barges every few months, as well as weekly charter flights, to supply the necessities. The consumables and perishables already on location will not be within their sell-by date next season. The sad reality is that it really does cost us more to not have guests on location. Then we have to factor in that our staff would like to get home to their loved ones, which entails the hasty booking of charter flights, international flights and hotels at the company’s cost. I could go into more detail but suffice it to say it is simply not possible for us to move all our bookings forward at no additional cost to clients. Doing that would mean we have to finance those trips ourselves as the money to operate those trips has already been spent. Consider, too, that rescheduling guests limits our opportunity to book new guests.
Alphonse Fishing Company has always gone the extra mile to take care of its guests as it did three months ago by rescheduling cancellations at four of our destinations due to cyclone Belna that hit Seychelles in December 2019. Although we are still recovering from that setback, we have come up with a way to handle COVID-19 cancellations that has been well received by our guests and partners. Here is what we have come up with. First, there will be no fee for rescheduling the inner islands flights our guests booked for this year. The full amount paid will be carried across to the new trip. This accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the total fishing package depending on the destination. As for the rest of the monies paid for fishing and accommodation, we are going to charge only a 25% reschedule fee. For example, if a client paid $8,000 for the fishing and accommodation portion of his trip, $6,000, plus the full value of the flights he bought, will be carried over to his next trip. As for our Amani liveaboard trips to the Almirante chain of islands, we are offering to roll the entire cost forward as we were able to cancel these trips will little cost to us. We are making this offer not only to guests who were forced to cancel their trips due to travel restrictions imposed by various countries, but also guests that cancelled due to the financial impact of the worldwide crash in stock exchanges. However, we encourage all booked guests to be honest and forthcoming if they were able to collect on a travel insurance claim.
To be able to offer this assistance, we have had to cut costs on all levels and make some extremely difficult and painful decisions. Importantly, we had the foresight to build a reserve fund for unexpected situations like this. Another silver lining is that all our fisheries are being rested. We are currently attempting to speak to every guest who cancelled a trip with us. We hope to reschedule all 342 guests in the near future. All of us at Alphonse Fishing Company wish everyone the very best. When the current crisis passes, we look forward to spending some special time out on the water with you.
Keith Clover at African Waters (www.africanwaters.net) checked in with this report on how they are handling their bookings all across Africa:
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond, as these times are indeed unprecedented and pose a major threat to the sustainability of almost every fly fishing operation out there.
Our position is as follows:
• We have had to cancel the remainder of our Cameroon, Nubian Flats, Gabon and Lesotho seasons.
• All lodges have been closed and guides and guests repatriated at great cost (to us and as operators and the individual guests affected) due to the demand on flights and urgent time frame we had to work on.
• As we were in the midst of our various seasons, which run through to May or June (depending on the camps), this came at a terrible time for us. Admittedly, things would have been even worse if the pandemic had hit at the beginning of our seasons.
• All our camps support a large local work force, in remote areas with little/no other forms of formal employment. Our guides also rely on theses season to get them through the off season. Our main objective is providing security to our camp staff and guides. Thus, all camp staff and guides have received full salaries
• Our conservation projects and the associated costs remain, as do our financial obligations in the various countries in terms of annual leases, tourism levies, block fees etc.
• Thus, we, as operator, have unfortunately incurred the full cost for these seasons, and are in fact still liable for a number of post-season fees (our obligation to pay a number of conservation levies, national park fees, etc).
• A refund or free reschedule is therefore not a possibility. It would sink the business and have major detrimental and long-lasting effects on all our staff, as well as the communities and conservation bodies with whom we work.
• Most of our guests are completely on board, and are aware of the complexity of the situation, and are working with us in good spirit while we attempt to come to a suitable arrangement to get them fishing again.
• As it stands, we are offering to reschedule trips for a fee. This fee is camp-dependent and varies between 25% and 80% of the original tour cost, depending on how much of the season we lost and what we are personally able to finance.
• This obviously comes at a huge financial burden to us, as we will in effect be running next season at a loss. Our priority is trying the absorb this financial hit, while doing everything possible to lessen the burden on our guests.
• We are operating under good faith in terms of trusting clients and agents on reporting any insurance claims that are being paid out.
I hope this clarifies our position, and the industry comes together to support and assist one another in these trying times. All the best to you and your family. Stay safe, and I look forward to things getting back to normal, whenever that may be.
Director, African waters
Ken Morrish of Flywater Travel (www.flywatertravel.com), an international booking agency, checked in with this report:
In this time of stress and uncertainty, it is our commitment to our guests to handle the challenges we face in a calm, compassionate and fact-based manner. Of paramount importance, we think everyone should realize that this crisis will ask a great deal from everyone involved, meaning outfitters, agents, and guests. No one entity can bear the brunt of these disruptions alone. Everyone will need to participate in creating reasonable outcomes. We are asking that our outfitters be as generous as they can, and in the same breath, we are asking this of our guests and of ourselves. It is extremely important that booked clients understand that an agent is their advocate but not the entity responsible for individual lodge policies. Different outfitters have different resources and as a result the range of outcomes varies a great deal. Some large affluent entities can be gracious and survive and some smaller hand-to-moth outfitters cannot. Many are walking the fine line between being generous and their ability to continue their business.
This is not a one-policy-fits-all deal, and that is hard for the public to understand. We have clients that had multiple trips booked with us, which put us in the position of having to offer them different roll-forward policies on each trip because outfitters, not agents, dictate those policies. To date, roughly 65% of these policies have enabled our clients to roll forward 100% of their funds to future dates, while the other 35% of policies have required rebooking fees that have been both hard to understand and swallow in some cases. In the vast majority of these cases, the retention of funds has been a simple matter of survival for the outfitters. In a few cases, frankly, we had hoped for and expected more understanding from our clients. These situations have resulted in the hardest conversations in our professional lives and we eagerly await a time when such disheartening subjects will be behind us.
On the bright side, to date, we have been impressed by how well the vast majority of our clients have accepted less-than-perfect news and we are exceedingly grateful for everyone who has helped make these hard times easier than expected. Adversity reveals character and this is basic truth is being played out every hour of every day in our office.
Here is to brighter days ahead!
Robert Ulrich of GoFishBahamas ([email protected]; 305-778-5177) checked in with this intriguing coronavirus-related offer. Ulrich is a former publisher of boating and fishing magazines in South Florida who has developed a close relationship with Bahamas Tourism officials and with many Bahamian lodge owners.
When Seas Calm Down…
It’s the end of March and millions of anglers around the world are voluntarily or mandatorily locked down at home. We all know about the virus. We’re all feeling the frustration. We all know the dust will settle soon, and when it does we’ll appreciate our pastime more than ever. But for now, let’s pull together keeping our families safe, our friends close, and let’s not forget those friends in the island where we love to fish.
But when the dust settles, what if our favorite fishing spots were still locked down and our favorite fishing lodges still closed. Imagine that, and not due to the virus infection, but rather the negative effect of the financial impact. Like any other small, family-owned business they too depend on cash flow. That is especially true during the winter season when occupancies are high, and the positive cash flow generated by a visiting angler trickles down through the entire community. Conversely, when our travel plans are impacted, the cash flow throughout the local community stops.
The Islands of The Bahamas are a destination that attracts thousands of anglers every year. They’re islands where records are set, and every day anglers enjoy the thrill of catching trophy-size fish. The fishing lodges here meet high standards, and survive on their reputation and credibility. With this said, and if you’re one of those anglers concerned about a pre-paid deposit, we ask you to consider leaving your deposit in-place. Instead of demanding a refund, work with the lodge to extend your travel plans. Most lodge operators and guides are holding fast to the terms of their cancellation policies in this critical time. If you booked direct with the lodge, call them and reschedule. Work with the lodge and they’ll work with you. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did. Guaranteed!
If you’re not holding any reservations, now is the time to make one. For all the reasons above, bookings now may come with pleasant surprises. Some lodges are offering additional days when booking at least five nights. To this end, the publishers of The Bahamas Fishing Map & Visitors Guide in conjunction with their Go-Fish-Bahamas promotion, client lodges and media friends have decided to collaborate on a project designed to cast a bright light towards the end of the tunnel ahead of us in this current crisis. The solution is for anglers, lodge operators and guides during these unprecedented times is to work together to ensure that everyone gets what they want, and more.
We are encouraging anglers to directly contact participating lodges in The Bahamas to rebook fishing vacations cancelled through the remainder of spring 2020 for available openings in the summer. This would permit anglers to redeem otherwise nonrefundable deposits while allowing lodges to sustain their operations and continue making payroll for dedicated employees in these difficult times.
Fishing guides are also being brought on board as partners in this exercise, as they too are experiencing a sharp decline in business. They recognize it’s in their best interest to extend the traditional fishing season into the summer in order to recover what could be lost revenue… and a missed opportunity.
There’s a myth about fishing in The Bahamas that this corona crisis might help dismiss. The fiction to which I allude is that productive fishing in the islands is seasonal. The truth of the matter is that fishing can be enjoyed year-round, especially during summer. In fact, the summer months provide even more fishing options than the winter season for anglers. For example, shallow water species of fish can be expanded beyond bonefish to include permit, tarpon, jacks, barracuda, etc. Blue water fishing for mahi mahi, grouper, red snapper, and other species can be added as a bonus.
Finally, summer fishing is a very practical solution to the current challenges being experienced by anglers, lodges and guides at this time. It will allow for flattening of the traditional fishing peak experienced annually, which create a limited time frame for booking opportunities and generate more available fishing days.
The following is a list of some lodges offering “Advanced Booking” discounts. The offer is genuine, the forty-percent value-added includes TWO FREE NIGHTS when booking and paying in advance for five nights. Better yet, food is included. The extra days do not include guides, fishing, beverages or gratuities. There’s more… some packages may include roundtrip local airfare to your Out Island destination. Ask the lodge for details. It’s a good time to take advantage of these discounts, and at the same time, you’re truly helping the lodges and surrounding communities get through these trying times.
Here is a sampling of just some lodges offering Advance Booking discounts:
Andros Island Bonefish Club, Andros… 242-357-2212; (305) 767-2825.
Chester’s Bonefish Lodge, Acklins… 242-468-4994.
Chester’s Highway Inn Bonefish Lodge, Acklins… 242-357-4179.
Long island Bonefish Lodge, Long Island… 242-472-2609.
Old Bahama Bay, Grand Bahama… 242-602-5171.
Stella Maris, Long Island… 242-338-2050/51.
Swain’s Cay Lodge, Mangrove Cay, Andros… 242-422-5018.
Note: If free Out Island airfare is not available to the lodge you book, some air carriers serving the Out Islands have agreed to offer handsome discounts on scheduled flights and private charters. One such carrier is Makers Air (954-383-2774). Use BOOKING CODE: GOFISH
Postscript: More feedback will be posted soon. Stay tuned.